BookBin2013: Double Dealer

doubledealer

Lest I end the evening (or the month) with a negative review, let’s talk about that other television franchise over which I’m thoroughly gaga: CSI!

I may have mentioned this at some point here at the lair, but a while ago I found a great eBay auction on a large lot of CSI novels (I think I ended up with the first 10 novels; I could be wrong on that count, but I’m too lazy to get up and check) for a relatively low price. It was low enough, in fact, that I decided that even if I hated every single novel, it was still worth the cost.

Of course, we all know the deal by now: I bought them, received them, stacked them, and promptly moved on to other books. However, I decided one of these novels would be the perfect length for at least one leg of our recent Hawaii adventure…and I was right! I was able to finish this one during the flight from the islands to LAX. Perfect timing!

So Double Dealer, written by Max Allan Collins, is the first of the Las Vegas CSI novels. I’ve mentioned Collins here before; he was the author of three of the CSI graphic novels I’ve reviewed here. From what I wrote previously, I found his writing skills to be mostly entertaining, but I found that his stories didn’t really push the boundaries of the CSI fictional world in ways similar to how the Trek novel writers often pushed that franchise’s “accepted” boundaries. Of this, I wrote:

One thing that I’ve always liked about the Trek universe’s forays into comics and novels is the fact that the stories there tend to stray from the canonical path. With few exceptions, nothing shown in either written world is ever viewed as “truth” to the filmed Trek universe. I guess that’s not the case with the CSI universe, because not a whole lot new is revealed in these graphic novels.

It’s pretty much the same with Collins’s novel work as it was with his graphic novel work. Nothing very unorthodox, nothing shocking or even remotely different from what you would already know as a fan of the show (which is highly unacceptable to someone who may or may not spend an inordinate amount of time reading CSI fan fiction). I wonder if that changes as the novels progress or if the writers were instructed to stick within the established world seen on the show. I hope we learn some new stuff, even if it isn’t canon.

That being said, Collins wrote a pretty solid story about two murder mysteries that quickly become one mystery that leads the team across many years and many miles to reach a rather satisfying ending. It’s not going to appeal to anyone other than a really devoted CSI fan (no one will ever doubt my commitment to Sparkle Motion, I can assure you all of that), but I found it to be a great way to pass the time. Also, I very much enjoyed the deeper exposition on the more scientific aspects of what the criminalists do to solve their cases. Collins put in a fair amount of research for this story, which I greatly appreciated. One of the things that sometimes irritates me about the show (although I do understand the reasons why) is how they will gloss over the actual processes in favor of interpersonal interactions or other such character developments. I’m much more into the procedure of it all rather than the characters (most of the time). The books, therefore, are probably going to make me slightly happier than the show. Not that I’m going to give up on the show any time soon. Hell, if I’m still watching it after 13 years, I suspect I probably won’t stop until the very end…20 years from now.

Final Verdict: I’m going to hold onto this one, at least for now. No, it’s not a terribly deep novel, but I imagine it would be fun to revisit on a beach at some point. You know, when I’m finally caught up on reading all the books I own at least once 😉

BookBin2011: CSI Graphic Novels

No, that isn’t a mistake, denizens. This will be the final book entry for my 2011 reading endeavors. Even though I was in the process of reading several other books (my attention span seemed to shrink significantly toward the end of last year), I decided I wanted to end the year on a fluffy note. Therefore, the stack of CSI graphic novels that I picked up from Amazon Marketplace a while ago seemed like a great place to go. Besides, as I mentioned in my last post, there was road-tripping to be done this past weekend, and since I wasn’t driving, I chose to entertain myself with reading.

Okay, so here’s the deal: After reading the first CSI graphic novel, Serial, I decided that—true to my obsessive nature—I wanted to read more CSI graphic novels to see if they improved upon what I considered to be a relatively sturdy foundation. I purchased the next four novels. There are more graphic novels beyond five; however, these are the only ones illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez. I mentioned in my review of Serial that at some point the artwork for these CSI novels turns quite mucky. However, Rodriguez’s artwork in the first novel was impressive enough to assuage my fears that he might be the tainted artist.

In all honesty, it’s Rodriguez’s art and coloring that compelled me to continue reading these comics. His grasp of illustrating our favorite band of Vegas criminalists continued to improve throughout each of these three novels. The disproportionate appearances that I noted in my review of Serial continued through Bad Rap and Demon House, but definitely began to diminish.

[Loba Tangent: If the cover art for Demon House looks a little familiar to regulars here at the lair, it’s because I used it as the inspiration for my CSI: Bajor spoof cover, Blood Prophecy. You’re welcome.]

By the time I started Dominos (yes, I know the title is misspelled; yes, it did irritate the hell out of me), I was noticing a definite balance in proportions. Also, the likenesses became even more refined with each effort (with the continuing exception of Greg Sanders…I don’t know what it is about our favorite Lab Rat, but Rodriguez simply cannot get him right!). In fact, the only nitpick I can come up with is a minor one and really only something that would bother me: In all three novels, Rodriguez gave Sara Sidle long, sharp fingernails with a dark red polish.

Er, no.

Seriously, find me three instances on the show of Sara Sidle wearing any kind of nail polish and I will send you cookies.

The real beauty of each of these novels, however, is in the coloring. I think Rodriguez did the coloring, but I might be wrong. Fran Gamboa is listed as being responsible for colors in Bad Rap, but that’s the only time someone else is listed. Regardless, whoever did the coloring for these graphic novels did an amazing job. The attention to shadows and lighting gave the panels a gorgeous dimensionality that often is missing from mass-produced comics. The lighting closely mimics the lighting as seen in the television show, which adds a nice connection between the printed and televised worlds.

The flashback and speculation scenes for all three novels were still done in a different, more abstract style than the primary artwork. Ashley Wood continued to do these watercolor renderings for Bad Rap and Demon House. Steven Perkins took over for Dominos. I appreciated Perkins’s abstract style to Woods’s work. Woods’s take on these scenes seemed to degenerate throughout each story, becoming more abstract and less interesting with each offering. Toward the end of Demon House, it seemed as though the abstract artwork became nothing more than scratched-out stick people over a sickly mottling of drab olives and browns. Perkins brought back a more refined level of artistry with his take on the flashbacks, keeping them stylistically different from the rest of the story while imbuing them with an appealing sense of sophistication.

As for the writing, Max Allan Collins stuck around after his first crack at graphic novel storytelling to write the stories for Bad Rap and Demon House. They were acceptable stories, but nothing that would push the boundaries already established by the show. One thing that I’ve always liked about the Trek universe’s forays into comics and novels is the fact that the stories there tend to stray from the canonical path. With few exceptions, nothing shown in either written world is ever viewed as “truth” to the filmed Trek universe. I guess that’s not the case with the CSI universe, because not a whole lot new is revealed in these graphic novels.

Kris Oprisko took over the writing from Collins for Dominos. Again, nothing too different, although Oprisko enjoyed invoking a darkness in his tale that Collins very seldom embraced. Dominos had a much more brutal feel, which inspired equally brutal imagery from Rodriguez and Perkins. It was in these aspects that I felt the graphic novel finally started to reach beyond the boundaries of the show…although that’s not really the case anymore. Ever since CSI switched to a later time slot, they’ve definitely been exploring the reduced level of restriction in what sort of gore they can show their audience.

All that being said, if you’re a fan of the show, you’ll enjoy these dalliances. Are they worth purchasing? Again, if you love CSI, then they’re worth owning if only for the enjoyable artwork. That reminds me: Here’s a more objective nitpick, not necessarily about the artwork but more about the skimping the publishers did to the artwork. Whereas Serial was printed in what has become a “standard” size for many graphic novels, these three were printed in what IDW Publishing called the “New Format.” Reduced size, which means: A) The artwork was skimped the way comic strips get skimped in newspapers; and B) these books now look ridiculous on my graphic novel shelf. All the other books there are a relatively standard size. Even the fifth CSI novel, Secret Identity, went back to the standard size. Guess they realized their mistake and corrected it.

Oh, and if you’re interested, I’m nearly finished with Secret Identity. I promise my comments on that one won’t be nearly as long as these comments.

Final Verdict: I’m keeping these three for now. I like my obsession-related collections. Prophets know I have plenty of Trek-related books. While my CSI collection will never grow to that level of insanity, I’m having a fun time collecting for a new obsession…at least until the Buffy collecting bug kicks in…

BookBin2011: CSI: Serial

So remember when I was in Toronto a few weeks ago and we met up with a bunch of my groovy ImagiFriendsTM to go to this used book store that specializes in geeky books?

Yeah, so while I was there, I stumbled upon their graphic novel section, which was kind of small but still decent. And what, dear denizens, should I find but a CSI graphic novel! After quickly perusing it, I realized that it wasn’t one of the collections that I’d seen before, which, to be brutally honest, had some of the most horrifying and amateurish artwork I think I’ve ever seen in a comic book. I need to figure out which collection that was, because I don’t want to have anything to do with it or the artist behind it.

CSI: Serial, however, was drawn by Gabriel Rodriguez, with flashback and “speculation” (think those moments on the show where the CSIs speculate about what they think might have happened based on evidence they’ve just collected or testimony they’ve just heard) artwork done by Ashley Wood. I have to say, this was one of my favorite aspects of the art in this collection: the delineation of styles, with the main story presented in more traditional comic line art and the flashbacks and speculation moments done in rough, abstract watercolors. I also liked how the lettering was done in the flashback sections, with the text captured in boxes that looked like little manila folders. The extra-nice touch? Each CSI had a different “tabbed manila folder” design for their dialogue during these abstract sections. For example, Grissom would have a folder with a green tab all the way to the left of the box, while Sara would have a folder with a red centered tab. Subtle, clever way to help us keep track of who was providing the exposition.

As for the main artwork, Rodriguez did a laudable job of bringing our favorite band of Vegas investigators into the two-dimensional comic book world. They were passable but not precise duplications; there was always something just a little off about each of the comic depictions. I think it might have been that all their heads were slightly too big for their bodies. Made them all look a bit like bobble heads. However, with the exception of his depiction of Greg (which looked nothing like Eric Szmanda), Rodriguez’s renderings were easily identifiable, including those of secondary and even tertiary CSI characters. Plus, I finally discovered the origin and meaning of this panel, which I found a while ago and has made me laugh every time I’ve looked at it:

Image courtesy of Jorja Fox: Online

Yes, I really am that juvenile. You have to admit, though, out of context? You know you laughed, too. Nice eyebrow arch, though, right? Right.

So what about the actual story behind CSI: Serial? Written by Max Allan Collins (who is probably best known for: A) his graphic novel The Road to Perdition; and B) looking like an Elton John clone), the primary case is all about a Jack the Ripper copycat killer, with a secondary case that’s not terribly difficult to figure out but was run by Sara and Nick, which is a pairing that we don’t see that often on the show anymore. It’s admittedly not the most original or creative storytelling for the very first CSI comic arc, but I will say this in this collection’s favor: A lot of times when production companies decide that they want to saturate the market with as much merchandise as they possibly can pertaining to their show, in an attempt to ride the coattails of popularity for as long as they can, what you often get is something rushed and inferior. With Serial, IDW Publishing gave CSI fans a solidly drawn comic with a story that, while not earth-shaking in originality, is thoughtfully crafted, well-written, and an enjoyable ride.

Final Verdict: Not only am I keeping this collection, I’ve done a little research and discovered that Collins, Rodriguez, and Wood teamed up for several other collections, which are supposedly superior in story and presentation to this one. I perhaps may have sought some of these out for further investigation. Analysis may soon be forthcoming.